The following are things that you will need to consider when traveling
to Costa Rica.
1. Passport. You will
need to have a current passport. If traveling from the U.S., you
will not need a visa, but from other countries this may be
necessary. Check with your local travel agent or embassy.
Some travel agents or airlines will explain that U.S. travellers can
enter Costa Rica with a valid American birth certificate, but this is
always much more complicated than having a passport and may cause
It takes about 6 weeks to obtain a passport.
2. Vaccines and prophylactics.
We highly recommend the use of a travel clinic in preparing for travel
to any foreign destination. These clinics will check the current
recommendations for your destination country and then provide the
appropriate vaccines and medications for such things as malaria
prophylaxis. Although the incidence of malaria is very low in
Costa Rica, a phophylactic drug is recommended. Please do not use larium. Although many U.S.
physicians are prescribing this drug, or its equivalent, we have had
students that had very bad and long lasting reactions to the
If you use your family doctor instead of a travel clinic to prepare for
your trip, you should visit the CDC
website to see what preparations are recommended for your
destination prior to visiting the doctor to be sure you know what is
3. Flights. We recommend
that you purchase your tickets online using any of the various travel
websites (e.g. Travelocity.com or Hotwire.com). These will
provide you with flight options in order of cost. Remember to
shop around, as different sites will offer deals through various
carriers. From the U.S., most people can still find flights for
under $600 from a major airport. Be sure of your travel dates, as
changing flights can be expensive or impossible for certain deals (e.g.
hotwire does not allow any change of flights). Your destination
will be the Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose (actually located in
Alajuela), Costa Rica. The three letter acronym for this airport
4. Arrival. We recommend
that you arrive in San Jose on the day before the first day of your
class and get a room near the airport. We generally pick students
up near mid-day of the first day of class at a predesignated hotel
(varies with the class). We will pick you up at this airport in a
bus and drive you to the field station. If you try to arrive on
the first day of class, you run the risk of delayed flights causing you
to miss our bus! You will then need to take public transportation
(bus) to the town of Cariari, where we can send a car for you.
Let us know if you wish to share a hotel room with somebody else from
your session. We will make names and e-mail addresses of those
who wish to share available to you via e-mail.
In the airport and traveling in San Jose, it is a good idea to keep
your money, traveller's checks, and passport on your person.
Although the incidence of violent crimes is vanishingly small in Costa
Rica, there are individuals (in major cities in all countries) who
would gladly take that which is not theirs, given the
opportunity. Do not leave your baggage unattended, and never
leave your passport or money in your luggage or in any purse or handbag
that is not secured within your clothing. Although you are
less likely to be robbed in Costa Rica than you are in the U.S. (for
esample), the consequenses of such thefts are more acutely felt in a
5. Language. Spanish is
the official language of Costa Rica. All courses at El Zota will
be taught in English. Although guide books may tell you that most
Costa Rican know some English, this is generally only true of heavily
used tourist destinations, and does not apply to us. In fact,
most Costa Ricans expect tourists to make some attempt to learn a
little bit of the local language. This is a must if you plan to
travel around the country before or after the class.
Although knowledge of the Spanish language is not necessary to come to
El Zota, you will learn much more about the local culture if you
attempt to pick up a few words and phrases. If you have taken
Spanish in college or high school, practice a little before coming to
Costa Rica. It can only enrich your travel experience.
6. Money. The official
currency of Costa Rica is the Colone (pronunciation is similar to
Bologne). Generally speaking, exchange rates have been between
300 and 400 colones to the dollar. You can exchange American
dollars for colones at most major hotels in San Jose (as a service to
customers of the hotel) for a small fee. If you do not wish to
pay a fee, you can go to a bank and get the exact exchange rate for
your money. We do not recommend this if you speak no
You are not likely to find
colones easily or cheaply in the U.S. or Europe, so wait until you
arrive to exchange money.
Please exchange some cash for spending money before coming to the field
station, as it will be difficult to do so after you arrive.
At the airport and on the streets in San Jose, there are street vendors
who will attempt to exchange money for you. We do not recommend
this method, as you may be swindled.
We recommend changing $50 to $100 dollars to colones before coming to
the station. This will allow you to purchase refreshments at El
Zota, and souvenirs on your field trip.
7. Packing. Pack light,
but bring everything you may need. There will be little
opportunity for shopping in Costa Rica before class, and you may not be
able to find what you need. Also, goods produced outside of Costa
Rica (such as batteries and film) may be much more expensive and of
inferior quality to those you are accustomed to purchasing.
Remember, you will be limited to two check bags and one carry-on by the
airline. Soft-sided luggage is preferable to hard-shelled
8. Other precautions.
Always carry your money and passport on your person when
travelling. Although we have never had any incidences of theivery
at El Zota, your instructor can keep your passport and money under lock
and key when you arrive at the station, if you so desire.
Make a photocopy of the photo page of your passport and keep this in a
separate place from your actual passport. This can aid in getting
a new passport should you lose yours.
Leave your driver's licence, school ID and unnecessary credit cards at
home. If it is difficult to replace, if you don't need it, if you
can't afford to lose it, leave it at home. The only necessary
documentation in Costa Rica is your passport.
If you take medication for any reason, be sure you have an adequate
Bring plenty of plastic bags (ziplocks and the like). The air is
humid at the station and you may wish to protect some items from the
moisture. Many electronic devices do not work well in the
humidity (including many laptop computers, electronic cameras, video
cameras, etc). Be particularly careful with cameras and
binoculars. We have a drybox for such things, but you will still
want plastic bags to protect them in the field or during transport.
Bring plenty of insect repellant with deet, but remember, deet eats
plastic and 100 percent deet is not recommended for direct contact with
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